Well rested and well fed, my host Ross and myself went to watch Vikings and Saxons march through York and then batter each other with lumps of metal outside the Castle Museum. Seemed a perfect way to prepare for the sold out onslaught of ‘the electric day’. (Giz)
After the folk lead music of yesterday, today was the turn of the metal bands and as the event was sold out I was expecting a wholesome day of metal tinged with folk influences and musicality as London based act Call Of Fenrir opened the day. The sea like noises of the intro lead into a deathly like metal foundation as the extremely tall singer stood in front of the stage; I don’t think he could actually stand on the stage without bending over if he didn’t. The biggest problem with their set was ridiculously loud kick drum sound which reverberated the entire venue and plagued other bands during the evening too. It was that loud that putting a drink on the shelf I was using meant it would vibrate so much, it moved around and would fall off, something I forgot about later in the evening as my drink did lemmings jump onto the floor. Initially the band lacked a little charisma but soon found their niche on “Storm Of Jørmungandr” as the guitarists chanted hey in unison with a ritualistic drum beat. The riff was excellent, emboldening the song and vigour of their set before it delved into a nicely executed calm phase. “A Wolf’s Requiem” maintained the energy after a keyboard based intro piece, as female vocals filtered into this song as well. They did need to work on the leads, as they were often strained and lacked finesse as the closing tune was announced as a drinking song and titled “Skål” which I’m sure you know the translation of. There was an anthemic vibrancy to the song as you’d expect, as the chorus was sang by the audience and set up the rest of the day very nicely indeed. (MH)
Nottingham based Wolvencrown have been gigging like demons recently but weirdly I had avoided them so had decided to keep it that way until tonight to see if they could impress me live with no knowledge. Did they? Oh yes… This is a dense, ferocious affair from opener ‘Towards Broken Depths’. With proper live keyboards swelling the melody and atmosphere we are hit by a tight, focussed attack dual guitar attack. Their sound rises from the same broad mists as Wolves In The Throne Room, Winterfylleth, early Fen, Fellwarden and maybe a pinch of Wodensthrone. Riffs cascade and the powerful rhythm section drive it on. Visually, besides showing a huge range of influences in t shirts and patches, they are just as intense and focussed as their sound. Finishing with ‘S.A.D.’ they totally convince me and get a great reaction.(Giz)
“Could the singer please make his way to the stage?” calls a band member next. A few seconds later a large bear of a man familiar to most if not all present joins them saying “Sorry, I was putting my make-up on but then I remembered I don’t have any…” Yes Glynn and the Ravenage guys are here. With a little line-up re-jig due to a dislocated shoulder for guitarist Chris meaning the bassist Sam moves to guitar and an ex member Tom stands in on bass, they wind up and charge into the fray with the bone crunching ‘Shield Walls Collide’, carefully checking there is enough ceiling height to wield the sword. Their sound is , a mixture of early Viking metal which always makes me think of Mithotyn (probably only me, yeah) but with a great modern bruising, rabble rousing energy and humour with Glynn a huge presence . ‘Northbound’ is excellent, the frontman leaning into with everything. For a moment I get really excited when Glynn says “This is from our recently released new album…” sadly adding ” Of six, no seven years ago… ” Damn. Ah well ‘Fresh From Fields Of Victory’ is particularly hard hitting and the traditional ending of ‘More Beer’ gets a perfectly drunken response all round. Ah, just a great, entertaining band. (Giz)
“Who’s on next?” asks a robed, black and red faced chap in the audience next to me with a grin. Yeah, the Shaman himself and the tribe make their way to the stage. ‘White Spring’ introduces them in ominous tones and the audience moves in. Wyrdstæf only brought their first ever t-shirts to this gig and there are already people wearing them. After Warhorns 2019 and that stunning debut they have the added pressure now you see: Expectation. They are also without their Revenant, who is engaging in ritual activities in Eastern Europe involving stags. Can they…oh fuck of course they can. This is the intense, eerie, dark music we heard once before but the aggression has been fuelled to higher levels. ‘Great Migrations’ brings so many images; people, huge animals, a world shifting with change. Yes I miss the eerie sounds woven but with these musicians the songs simply rise up from the Palaeolithic murk. The Shaman is incredibly intense, prowling, staring, roaring and the utter concentration of the drumming Valdr pounds out the devotion. The constantly rolling white eye horror of the superb guitarist Qatel, the pervasive bass from Imrama and the staff and weird instrument wielding one threads the music with real power. The audience is still standing with jaws open, only daring to cheer when music falls away. They look genuinely rapt. With the epic ‘Primordial Bloodlines’ and some great guitar work closing the set they go off to huge applause. Yes, they managed to handle the expectation and frankly I just think it’s a matter of time before one of the more adventurous labels realises they must sign them. Two gigs down, still just something else.( Giz)
It’s fair to say Old Corpse Road were as highly anticipated as Wyrdstæf and gave the band a tough to job to follow that they did not manage to equal, as I was left disappointed with the bands show coming across as lacklustre and laboured. Again the stupidly loud kick drum infested their set which drowned out some of the bands more subtle moments, as they breezed into their set, seemingly more daubed in face paint than I recall from previous times I’ve seen them. The opening song was atmospheric with a steady ramping up of the tension and as ever all the guitarists were involved in singing and it is this facet of the bands song writing that sets them apart from other bands in this genre. The loudness was clearly affecting some people as I saw them with fingers in their ears as I gave a pair of ear plugs to a girl in front of me, much to her relief. There were quite a few people flouncing about, gesticulating with their hands during their songs even during the extreme components which I thought was strange but each enjoys music in their own way I guess. “The Whispers of Long Meg Through the Solstice” was damaged by that loss of subtlety caused by the saturation of the kick drums as by now the venue was sweltering and filled up. This track offered more of the bite I expected from the band, with flailing hair and an outright more in your face song. A new song was aired called “Harbingers Of Death” as the blackened blasted start was ferocious but laden with keyboards. The songs vehemence was huge and a fine taster of what the new album is likely to be like as “Pendle – Daughters of the Black Moon” closed their set, though there were some technical issues, which the bassist stated was the perils of wireless systems. The crowd did a little barracking but they were soon underway as the song is feast of tempo changes, with maniacal blasting sections spliced into their fine choral vocal exhibitions, but like I said the band looked lacklustre, a tad jaded, though I think all watching the band were very satisfied as I awaited Sellsword to up the jollity, though as my parting shot I did wonder why there was a guy holding a pineapple during their show, with people taking selfies with it; weirdos or I’d not had enough to drink to appreciate it. (MH)
Next, fresh from fields of battle stride local mercenaries Sellsword. Literally in the case of vocalist Stuart Perry who arrives in full mail having just legged it over after fighting in the Jorvik Festival finale. And proceeds to do the entire set in the mail. I mean, jeez, this is not a cool venue by now. “Are you ready for some silly heavy metal?” is the question. Judging by the reaction yes is the resounding answer. There is nothing silly about the songs or the musicianship however and we are hit with an utter storm of energy. Not only do we get favourites ‘Rise And Take Command’, ‘Merchants Of Menace’ and the incredible ‘Hardrada’ but two songs off the forthcoming sophomore album in ‘Unto The Breach’ and ‘Inquisitor’. The band seem particularly fired up and the crowd responds rabidly, creating a glorious atmosphere. Stuart Perry’s voice is as ludicrously good as ever but when you see what else is going on stage it’s kind of stunning. The drumming from Tom Warner is…well, he looks so casual flicking out fills and twirling sticks but its rock solid, same for tall Tom Keely on bass working perfectly with him. Henry and James on guitars are just on fire tonight for me; some of James’ fretwork is just so damned fluid and Henry seems to be nailing everything I can’t believe I’ve never really watched them before. And as the crowd genuinely goes a little mad I realise it’s the best set I’ve seen them do. Very, very deserving of the response. (Giz)
Which leaves the enigmatic A Forest Of Stars. First band with a projectionist, first band to really push stage space which leads to persistent on stage sound problems though off stage all sounds fine. The assembled gentlemen and lady strike the unwary with no compromise. This really was all or nothing stuff. I haven’t seen them live for so long this is a different band. ‘Precipice Pirouette’ whirls into the audience, Mr Curse lays bare his tortured soul, eyes wide, neck taut voice howling into the teeth of torture. Katheryne Queen of ghosts seems the eye of this storm, directing and pulling on the melodies. We get ‘A Blaze Of Hammers’, ‘Children Of The Night Soil’, ‘Left Behind As Static’ and ‘Scripturally Transmitted Disease’. We get the eerie images of the Projectionist swirling around our heads. We get music as madness and total commitment to the cause, souls rendered to feed the aggression and the diving melodies. ‘Gatherer Of The Pure’ haunts us like no other, and you see the ensemble in their full glory pushed together though they are. It’s a weird, glorious, totally committed victory over the chaos they dance upon the edge of. With ‘Summertide’s Approach’ releasing us, (Giz)
So ended the extraordinary weekend. It was great to see an event taking a few chances and being so well rewarded in both attendance and enthusiasm. Overall the sell-out crowd responded to everything thrown at them on a well thought out bill. The venue is small but fantastic and with the city offering so much to entertain you beyond Runagaderung itself. A perfect setting for a festival with a different ethos. and one I hope they continue to follow.
Our thanks to Connor Sanders (Northern Extremity Promotions) and Clare Webster (Unseelie PR) for their gracious help. I’ll be buying my ticket for next year as soon as they go on sale.
Words: Gizmo and Martin Harris
Pictures: Andy Pountney