OK apologies in advance. It was a late decision to review this brought on by the bloody hard work I saw going on so I did no prep and setlists were hard to come by. But such a good day in such a fine venue deserves recording. Special thanks to Dave Jerome @ World Downfall Photography for the photos, check out his work, and to Wayne Jackson for facilitating.
So, third year in a row, from the origins of DioFest, ManorFest hits the old mill town of Keighley at the tall ceilinged, acoustically excellent Victoria Hall. If you have never heard of ManorFest, well it punches well above its weight in headliners and is another example of bloody hard work made harder by also raising money for a local charity (Sue Ryder Manorlands Hospice). The prizes on the tombola were stunning and rightly sold out well before the end, and the week prior Mandala Tattoo Studio raised a stunning £2620 and counting during a charity tattoo day. Its a bit of a family affair both literal and metaphorical (Wayne Jackson, the organiser and Valafar frontman, has his parents on the tombola. The Valafar guys are all involved helping run stuff, Darkland Brewery who brew the Valafar beer are refreshing the artists (and the odd jammy/cheeky reviewer) backstage and that tattoo studio? Well owner Keith has his ink on the Valafar guys.) I’ll be missing dozens of people out of that list, so apologies to them As you can see this was such a ‘pitch-in-where-you-can’ day, just all done very professionally too.”
None of which would mean a thing without the bands. Orange Goblin, Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons and Memoriam topped, this supported by a number of up and coming and local unsigned bands.
So how do you start a varied all-dayer? With a long intro, a dedication to Chris Cornell and local four piece Hollow Earth. The banter on line was how they were going to fit a 25 minute song into a 20 minute slot. I stupidly thought they were kidding. Nope; this is dooooom. The track is ‘The Unwanted’ and they play it with dexterity, emotion and sincerity. Difficult to digest such a mammoth work first time but this is a weird, rather engaging type of heavy doom with real Alice In Chains and Soundgarden influences, progressive themes and an ease moving between clean and harsher vocals (from guitarist and vocalist Nige Mason, bassist of Valafar and MC for the day), crushing doom riffs and quiet, intense passages that reminded me of bands like Amenra of all things. Add in a frankly amazing bass lead break and they are a surprisingly accessible opener and get a warm reaction from the gathering audience. Had to get a CD after that. Cool.
From that surprise to another and the band I probably had the most difficulty with on the day, Sometime The Wolf. All in black with a singer sporting a wolf type headgear, they are clearly a well drilled band with a great vocalist and a really atmospheric presence. The music goes with that and is very immediate too. The problem I had is I am long standing Fields Of The Nephilim fan (yep I’m a little goth in places..) and on first encounter that influence, circa The Nephilm touching on Zoon, is overbearing from the huge vocals to the melody lines. I think I need to hear them again to really find their identity and I certainly wouldn’t object to that. They worked hard and went down warmly though so file under interesting. Check them out.
According to our MC things go suddenly international with from ‘the US of A’ we get Ironrat (Bradford actually…). What a scuzzy, filthy bunch with a sound to match they are too. Yeah, of course that’s a good thing. Unfamiliar with them other than by name, I am immediately punched in the face with a highly vulgar display of power. It’s good heavy, sludge tinged, blues injected, punk spitting metal with a cool, chunky groove. With a prowling, aggressive frontman and some filthy riffs being cranked out they do a great set. Corrosion Of Conformity arguing about blues with Goatsnake as Pantera try to goad them into a fight. Very nice. ‘Weed Machine’ a particular highlight. I go in search of the CD…
We actually get to the international part next with stoner metal band Slowtorch. They are kind of like Clutch on speed with a massively energetic frontman in Matteo Meloni, who also sports a fine set of pipes for this. To say say they are hard working doesn’t come close to what they try and pack in here; it’s real catchy, fuzzed riffing and with a thick vein of blues to the stoner sounds. Again my first time hearing them it’s a good encounter. There’s something so goddamned honest about their sound and their performance you want the rafters to be raised by the audience. Maybe I was just standing in the wrong place but I felt they were warmly responded to but not as much as they deserved.
Which brings me to a tricky one. Alunah. Now up front I have to say (despite the flack I will get from at least one of our scribes) that I have tried with the band on record and they just are not my thing. So I approached this cautiously hoping they’d convert me. They are an arresting sight with a fine vocalist centre stage but even better it very, very much a band performance which is excellent. They have that 70s fuzzy doom sound down pat and they certainly have a few fans around me which is nice to see. They really look good up there too; laid back and confident. I don’t know what happened, maybe the audience were all doomed and stoned out by this point, but Alunah are sadly given precious little feedback to work with and for me they faltered and the set began to fall a little flat. Not their fault: They worked really hard but just didn’t click and they seemed a bit dejected by the end. A shame. They may not be my drink of choice but I recognise a good band when I see them, I hope, and they deserved a fair bit more.
Drinks refreshed the familiar cry of “Are you ready for some silly heavy metal?” goes up and York based power metallers Sellsword once more gallop into the fray with ‘The Warrior’, determined to pick the energy levels up. Apparently there are on stage sound issues for them but out front you’d never know; everything is crisp and bright and the day does indeed spark back into animation. I may have seen them any number of times but the quality of musicianship from each one of these five guys never fails to impress. ‘Rise and Take Command’ whips things up nicely and new-ish song ‘Inquisitor’ seals the deal. It’s just great energy with bright catchy headbanging songs that wake up the crowd. Singer Stuart is his usual energetic self, full of humour as well as that huge voice, his mop of hair a blur as he waves his arms around wildly to exhort the crowd. The guitarists Henry and James seem effortless as they pull out some superb leads and cracking riffs whilst towering Tom Keeley winds dextrous bass lines through it all. Oh yeah and you will never see a more relaxed drummer than Tom Warner – sitting there like he’s at home watching TV but wielding and spinning those drumsticks like a demon. ‘Unto The Breach’ and the always rousing ‘Hardrada’ finish the set with a real emotional punch. Just great stuff. A well paced set and well appreciated by the crowd. We’re off again!
Ah…Memoriam. Another fine introduction onstage from Nige Mason in his finest Black Country accent for the occasion and the ManorFest House Band return (they’ve played every one so far and keep inviting themselves back, to the disappointment of Absolutely Nobody!) When that rumble of ‘Shellshock’ hits you there’s about a second to get out of the way before the tank tracks roll over you. It’s just bloody wonderful how four guys, messers Willetts, Healy, Fairfax and Whale can create such a stunning, powerfully dense sound. No frills, no nonsense just crushing crusty death metal of the highest order. A small but damned enthusiastic pit forms within moments and you just feel every riff batter through you. Karl seems to be the happiest man alive up there, throwing himself into it like he’s a teenager and it’s infectious. ‘Resistance’ in particular is huge and ‘Undefeated’ boiling over with emotion and power. It’s a powerful, utterly professional and tight set, but still full of sweat, blood and honour and…ah…there’s such a dirty, organic sound to Memoriam it never fails to make me just want to stare their storm full in the face. ‘Flatline’ closes a frankly utterly magnificent set and the crowd loves every dirty moment. Death metal can indeed be life affirming. See you next year then? I do hope so…
Righty. Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons follow that. The first and last time I ran into them was just before or about their first EP release. Gotta say the EP did little for me, and that long past performance was…lacking somehow. So not only was I concerned but utterly ignorant of their songs. Pass me my words as I need to chow down big time I guess. Jeez. Not even the same band, except it is of course *exactly* the same band. From the moment of the first chord of (I think) ‘Big Mouth’ and singer Neil Starr starts bouncing around like a lunatic they are just pure rock and roll. The enthusiasm and energy is infectious and the personalities have melded into a real and super tight band. Basically it’s like being mugged by family of rocking out hillbillies. You’ve got the visual contrast between Phil, his usual laid back but totally masterful self, and the restless stage stalking of son Tod who pulls out some superb work of his own. You’ve got Tyler on bass looking like he’s wielding a chainsaw not a bass and just challenging anyone not to bang their head and Dane behind the kit driving all these ruffians forward. The cover of ‘Born to Raise Hell’ has to be word and note perfect their family anthem; it raised the roof and from that point on I just threw myself into knackering my already shot knee as they ‘Rock Out’. ‘Get On Your Knees’ reinforces what a fine voice Neil has and what an excellent front man he has turned into as well. A version of Silver Machine is just a great shot of fun and…ah. Yeah the audience love it. The unexpected guest appearance of Ben Ward, lyrics pinned to the mic, and we’re treated to a track off Phil’s up and coming solo album too. Wow. Converted. Totally. That’s how you do it. Superb.
And then it’s Orange Goblin, baby! Ah, are they even capable of doing a bad show these days? From rabble rousing man mountain Ben Ward, through the extraordinary fuzzed out riff machine of Joe Hoare to the souped up engine room of Martyn Millard and Chris Turner, this is just heavy fucking metal and the Goblin howling into the storm. The sound is superb and ‘Sons Of Salem’ a rough hewn call to arms. The audience do indeed rise up and the band seem well pleased with the mess…
We get a little speech about how heavy metal is ignored by the outside world from Mr Ward, a sure fire way to whip everyone up as they launch into ‘The Filthy And The Few’. There’s a pit flinging bodies around, beer goes flying, the energy on stage is intense and there’s a thick cloud of heavy (fucking) metal in the air. ‘Some You Win, Some You Lose’, perennial throat wrecking shout back is glorious and somewhere in here I just lose myself in the filth and the fury. It’s just what heavy metal should be about; ear pinging, crowd pleasing, in it together, in it for pure joy. The pit is people taking care of each other (if not my beer), the band is tight and muscular as all hell and the music just glorious and celebratory. You are left just knowing you are part of something worthwhile.
It’s a perfect end to a great, friendly day. Not a duff band from start to finish just preferences, amazing generosity from sponsors and attendees alike and a hugely hard working team backstage. Damn even the food is good!
Better do it again next year I guess….
Photos: Dave Jerome/ World Downfall Photography