Interlude: There were real timing issues On Saturday but so you know from the outset this is the real tale, most I knew on the day (I asked) but the rest was direct from Glyn a few days after. And let’s be honest by the time Aephanemer had got halfway through their set everyone was back neck deep into the music again.
Firstly the pre-opening morning checks were held up. Would you believe despite the power station being yards away a flooded substation cut the power. Yep, only at Warhorns. This put everything behind hand and already a bigger problem was lurking
Kalmah had the journey from Hell. As Glyn says “Basically Kalmah were flying in from different parts of Finland and all due to arrive in the UK on the Friday evening so they could get some kip and then soundcheck before the doors opened. However, for 2 of them, their flight was delayed and consequently they missed a connecting flight and they couldn’t arrive in the UK til the Satuday morning at a London airport.”
On both the Friday and Saturday Warhorns plan a 1 hour break around 5pm, as they change sound engineers at this time and it also gives the stage crew time for a break.
“However that was the only time we could now soundcheck Kalmah. Additional to this because of the delayed flight some of their equipment never made it to the UK at all so they had to borrow from a guitar from Chris Fallas of Ravenage! ”
Glyn thought the production team did announce it was a soundcheck and that they were not the next band, but neither of us were in the room at the time so neither can say for sure, which goes for anyone clearing out after Wyrdstaeff and I dare say a few who were in there. Basically though the crew was working their bollocks off to try and get it on track.
In true Warhorns fashion though they have learned and already a plan for next year – extend the changeover time just a little but clear the room and hopefully organise some fun event or two for the crowd too, which would be a great addition. It’ll be the UKs answer to Midgardsblot yet!
Ah, sunshine, Saturday and acoustic sets to ease is in gently. First up we had British band Stonebearer who I have always conspired to miss before due to timings but today at last I caught them. A trio, they do acoustic covers of Moonsorrow songs which will probably appeal to a lot of Moonsorrow fans (and I gather Moonsorrow themselves) but I kind of approach with trepidation. No fear though this is a lovely, skilful interpretation in the original language and their delicate and emotional performance is a lovely welcome in. Definitely a band for you to catch when you can..
Second in the acoustic Bill was YYLVA. On record they are an atmospheric black metal band heavily influenced by Tolkein, with guitars and the odd harsh vocal alongside clean voice and harp. Today YYLVA, the lady herself, is alone with her harp due to a serious medical issue depriving her of companions. A striking sight, white gown, dark hair and harp, she sits and proceeds to utterly enthral those wandering in with the most delicate, ethereal songs delivered by precise fingertips and perfect voice. It has the feeling of early Arcana and touches of Amber Asylum; romantic, dreamlike and deeply emotional; ‘Waterwings’ and ‘Nienor’ being particularly affecting. With no merch (you try transporting a harp and merch by yourself) I resort to online ordering… A lovely discovery.
Fully plugged in and with total, utter contrast newish Coventry gang Opus Mortis deliver the ugly. ‘Blood Drenched Redemption’ just kind of rips into us with a whirl of hair and a feral frontman. It’s dark, nasty black/death metal with doomed vibes when they drop the pace and to my battered ears little hints of Behemoth. Time changes aplenty without sinking into the technical, constant windmilling from bass and guitar and the Possessed t-shirt wearing Slev snarling, growling, dropping to his knees and totally living the horrific world of the songs: This is great stuff and the crowds pick up.
Oh, look, they have a CD to buy…
Atorc try and pull us back from Hell. In a cloud of fur, leather, tunics, corsets and hair they damned well do, too. I was rather taken with them the first time I caught them live and this reminded me why. They just…well they just bounce straight into you. Excellent live keyboards, a fiddle used as a fiddle not instead of a lead guitar, clean vocals and hooks all over the goddamned place. They plainly have fans other than me in too and their reception is fantastic. There’s a lot of traditional metal in their folk, from the riffs to the high vocals (reminded a couple of us of Portrait, others disagree…) but the essence is in energy and melody. ‘Sons Of Ragnar’ in particular gets to me but really there’s not a dull moment and the jigs and the bouncing crowd bear testament to the fact. There’s genuine goosebumps when a song is dedicated to a passed father and the emotion here is palpable. Music, eh? Gets you every time.
Pretty much a triumph and proof if you need it between them, Isarnos and Na Cruithne that not all folk metal sounds the same.
Things get heavier as Ravenage declare ‘The Shield Walls Collide’. If you don’t know this is where genial Warhorns frontman Glyn Beasley ceases to wander the field asking campers in the morning if everything is ok and transforms into a berserk and crushes skulls. I’ve seen them a few times and they really are now a force to be reckoned with live Their style takes in viking metal with a little Mithotyn and more folk and melody and songs that only they can do justice to. With guitar and bass in smart shirts and ties and singer in sleeveless top and leather vambraces they are a distinctive sight and full of aggression and real brawling power amongst the melody. The set is full of real crowd pleasers and their reception is justifiably superb. ‘Fresh From Fields Of Victory ‘ and ‘Hardrada’s Fall’ bring the history, while the crowd participation song ‘This Is Yorkshire’ gets the old pride stirring in me. Closing with a very fast and wonderfully silly ‘What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor’ and ‘More Beer’ I realise how big my grin is.
That was Yorkshire indeed.
What came next was….jaw dropping. There had been no real buzz about Wyrdstaef but what little comment there had been was no preparation. None. They come on to a stage littered with skulls, pelts and bones with strange and ominous electronic noises, smoke and darkness. Robed and hooded, faces and skin in primitive black paint with red and white markings, bone fetish adornments, bhodrans, a staff, guitar, bass, drums and a bank of electronics and keys.
And it begins. The brutal but precise tribal drumming and chanting move into harsher black metal and back with a natural, highly spiritual flow. The terrifying stares from the front three figures transfix and invoke fear and awe. The insane glare from the guitarist Imrama, half face covered or eyes rolling back to the whites, the snarl of the Shaman and the haughty gaze of Azgon, his stave shaking at the crowd or held as he walks through them. The conjuring of the noises from outside the ritual circle by Revenant and the power of Valdr driving the demonic presence. This is mesmerising. The presence is hypnotic but also the incredible music is too; tribal, harsh and even darkly melodic. Heilung gone black howling metal, the Paeleolithic ancestors of Wolves In The Throne Room. This was insane atmosphere laden dread, precise rhythms and chaotic brilliance. Bones flung into the audience as a necklace snaps are our rewards. And their debut performance.
Just…stunning. The crowd loved it.
We then had the unavoidable delay for the Kalmah sound check, during which I somehow managed to recover my brain and soul via beer (and chat to the very friendly guys of Wyrdstaef who were genuinely taken aback by the reception.)
French band Aephanemer were probably grateful for the break too as no one could have come straight on after Wyrdstaef. As it was both audience and band were eager for music by the time they were set up and they proved to be the perfect band even with a truncated set. Within moments of opener ‘Unstoppable’ it was clear that their bright, modern take on melodeath was going to go down well. Their stage craft for such a young band was rather fine; the two female, one male front line making great use of the space and being unafraid to move around to engage with all of the crowd. ‘Sisyphus’ Bliss’ seals the deal really and it’s plain they are making a lot of new friends. The vocals of Marion Bascoul are excellent, harsh and varied, their power belying her slight frame and the lead work from Martin Hamiche is melodic and confident. With a great pairing of Lucie Woaye Hune on bass and Mickael Bonnevialle drums they really had it sussed and got an enthusiastic reaction. One for me to check out later.
I admit I was nervous about Dark Forest. I love this band to bits, have followed their progress for 15 years but as they mostly play Europe I haven’t seen them live in an age. I needn’t have worried. ‘Blackthorn’ kicks off and their trademarks of those folk meets Iron Maiden melodic guitar runs, power metal riffs and the insane lung capacity and tone of Josh Winnard just shatter fear and make your heart swell. Looking like he’s stepped out of the 80s (in a very good way) he leads them through a stunning rendition of ‘Where The Arrow Falls ‘ and the melody just seems to grab the crowd I’m pleased to say. I also know my neck is going to kill me tomorrow. Their Arthurian and folklore themes fit so well with Warhorns and their attitude too; even when a bass drum makes a bid for freedom they look so pleased to be there and it comes across in the show. ‘ Sir Gawain And The Green Knight’ and ‘Under The Greenwood Tree’ follow and are so catchy even if you don’t know them they sink in early. Too short but everyone around me is smiling, and unless I’ve gone deaf they get a great response. They made knew friends from chatting to people afterwards too so it wasn’t just me. Wonderful life affirming stuff from a fantastic band.
Last but one band are German berserkers Obscurity. They are one of those bands I have been aware of for years but have never really crossed paths with. They don’t exactly cross now either, they just kind of hit me head on. I mean, this is brutal viking/death metal stuff. Relentless, fierce and blazing. Even with two new members they are tight as Hell and the pulverising riffs just hammer in with the giant figure of singer Agalaz everywhere roaring over them. Pits break out all over, pints are sacrificed and bodies collide as it seems the crowd have a bloodlust now. ‘Naglfar’ is superb as is ‘Blood And Fire’ and the audience give them an amazing response. By this point of the weekend an old injury is playing up (I used to be an adventurer until I took an arrow the knee…Ok, a motorcycle accident…) so I seek seating. Nowhere to hide though and I watch mesmerized as the slaughter continues through ‘To Asgard We Ride’.
I guess this kind of reaction is a joy to behold for the organisers, justification of lineups and confirmation that delays haven’t dampened the fires at all. When fans are invited on stage for a mass headband to ‘Northmen’ it just underlines what a fantastic set this was.
And minutes later they were at the merch tables, chatting, smiling and laughing. Way to go guys.
So we come to Kalmah of the Hellish journey here and the borrowed equipment. The nice epic intro is greeted by loud cheers all round and I am so looking forward to this despite only having two albums by them. ‘Hook The Monster’ is immediately engaging and the titular monster causes the crowd to surge and bounce like a wave. It’s like a slashing sword to Obscurity’s hammer attack, the melody coming through fine and the whole audience is determined to pitch in and just enjoy. ‘Seventh Swamphony’ is excellent, and for the riff on ‘Swamphell’ I have written simply “beautiful” .
Hair was flying. ‘Pikemaster’ brought the pit again. There were people standing on tables and chairs and diving around the floor; it was a real celebration. We also had the curious between song banter, from them wondering if Brexit meant they wouldn’t be allowed back to the UK again and proposing David Beckham for King…We also had ‘Take Me Away’ and the brilliant ‘Blood Ran Cold’. With encores of ‘The Black Waltz’ and ‘Hades’ Kalmah had conquered and Warhorns surveyed the wreckage.
Another year done. Again the welcoming, fun, attitude free attendees sticking to the Warhorns ethos makes this the best festival in the UK. The entire Warhorns team worked miracles this year in the face of a new venue throwing up unknowns, the usual ‘beyond their control’ chaos the world continually throws at it and even the weather. The stage and sound crew worked liked demons and the merchandise and ticket team did as well. The Venue staff really rose to the occasion never having faced a metal festival crowd before, delivering fast and unfailingly friendly service and a truly awesome array of food up until midnight every day as we decimated their beer stocks.
And the security? You barely noticed them doing their job, and when you did they were spot on (even being more bemused by the one very drunk gent who managed to somehow wander in stage during Morpheus Rising and simply stood there seemingly wondering where his tent was…They herded him off gently like a puppy, bless).
To Glyn, Mark, Ian and the huge list of volunteers, to the always friendly Northern Darkness HMC thanks for the best Warhorns ever in its new home. Hopefully we have given the love back to something the Warhorns team created out of pure passion.
Next year it moves forward to the last weekend in August (29, 30, 31) due to a clash of important outside commitments of team members but hopefully it will continue to slowly but inexorably growth in strength. It’s now essential for the scene. Already announced are Dark Forest headlining the Thursday (all bands who had sets cut short due to the sound check have been offered a slot next year), Arpitanian black metallers Enisum, doomheads My Silent Wake and Welsh black metallers Agrona.
Also thanks to the lovely Elisa from Valkyries webzine for some set list help when my brain, ears or pen failed. It was a pleasure to meet you and help with the transport.
To 2019. Raise the horns!
Review and Outside Shots: Gizmo
Band Shots: Zinger