Bugger. I mess up timings and so me and the rest of the Last Of The Summer Wine cast can’t stop for decent food at the one nice cafe we found. Although bizarrely someone bought a painting on the way. As you do.
Sadly Waylander had to pull out at the last minute due to a serious illness (but like Enisum who equally sadly had to be pulled before the event, they will hopefully be on in 2020) so we started a little later and Vanaheim were moved to the main stage.
Wandering in, admiring the hangovers on display…I note they haven’t restocked the bar yet. Hmm… Well there is more Black Metal Brewery though. Win!
Cistvaen from Devon open day two on the main stage. Another band I knew nothing of but their unassuming appearance belies a rather impressive band. I guess it’s very melodic black metal but with a large vein of doomy, almost gothic sound running through. They’ve brought a few fans but it’s plain to see they win over far more with an honest approach. ‘Waiting’ even gets a clap along. The vocals are excellent and varied and the scything melody of the guitars work very well. I personally find it difficult first listening but yet another band I end up admiring regardless.
Following them on the same stage is UK band Draugr. One of only seven using the name I was surprised to find out. Very distinctive with a keyboard player using one of them guitar style setups (technical term…) and with stage gear and makeup that looks like…er…hedge zombies we’re clearly in for something different. It’s fast paced almost black n roll kind of melodic bm, great fun backed up by some excellent musicianship. They let the bass work shine and having the keyboards dashing around the stage is excellent. Real characters on stage too with showmanship and some amusing banter from.the frontman. They also give a shout out to Hester Aspland, the artist behind their album cover and stage hangings and of course the Warhorns artworks, which was cool. Yep, they deservedly went down great. Sadly no CD but snagged a t-shirt.
Scooting to stage two, it’s Manchester’s remarkable Pallas Athena. Progressive, symphonic metal with gothic and black metal brushstrokes they also have a striking look with cowls and the front lady Vickie commanding everything with her dramatic vocal and physical performance. It really is a vocal led tour de force, so much so much that the backing track used actually detracts a little, interfering with the sound for me. They pull in a nice full crowd and if the music is tricky and complex to get into first time live for me it is also the kind of music and intense focussed performance that makes you go and investigate them further. Keep an eye out for them near you. Pretty unique.
With beer on and timings working its Deadwood Lake on the main stage. I was kind of not looking forward to this as unaccountably I just cant get into the album I bought by this melodic, atmospheric black metal band. But regardless I am immediately impressed by their ability live. Some superb vocals and immense guitar work drive things along fiercely. Wild windmilling hair onstage is soon mirrored offstage and their actually hard-edged attack comes to the fore. There’s a little CoF in there to my probably utterly wrong ears but with far more focus, atmospheric rather than symphonic. Maybe still not totally my thing but I liked the set and more importantly the crowd really give them a fine and again thoroughly deserved send off (I mean by now I realise this is the most reactive crowds I’ve seen at Warhorns which is great to see).
Ooo, so what now on the Hive Stage? It’s none other than the lady I saw at Runergaderung, Solfyr. In deep red and white, trimmed with gold, Solfyr is an ethereal presence from the past. Alone on stage with just her voice, the odd simple backing track and a drum she seems small. Her sweet but strong voice though reduces the Viking horde to a silence and people coming in actually enter on tip toes and sit on the floor to bring a campfire feel. The warmth of the reception for her folk songs seems to swell her confidence and it’s a lovely addition to Warhorns.
By utter contrast the violent black metal of Agrona from Wales awaits us next. I had their demo so was interested to know how things had moved on. Well they look great, that’s clear; a swathe of corpsepaint, black leather armour and bullet belts and a gown for the lady Adara. They sound bloody great too. ‘I Choose To Burn’ sets out the set with a solid blast from two guitars, bass, drums and twin vocals. Songs like ‘Storms End’ and ‘Unbound’ have twisting tempos from full on attack to slower atmospheric passages and all done so smoothly. Visually the six piece use the stage well and musically it is hard hitting, slightly melodic black metal. The male and female singers for a change both utilise death vocals which strangely works well for me. Hard and full of interest the crowd gets into it too, though not to the extent of killing each other as singer Taranis encourages. Very enjoyable so album and patch bought…
Yylva on the Hive Stage was another act I was so looking forward to and the lady in black does not let me down in the slightest. Harp and vocals only she sits and as the raindrop sounds of the harp conjure an otherworldly, sylvan sound her extraordinary voice leads us further in. I just sit down and fall into it, let it drift me this way and that in its warm folds. It is melancholy at times, sweet at others but never less than simply beautiful. My favourite? Oh the lovely ‘Nienor’. Just sublime.
Countless Skies are a UK band who have graced Warhorns before, and who I’ve seen elsewhere and I know two things about this highly technical melodic death metal band. Firstly they have a lot of fans and secondly they have in the past always left me cold. I know, I know but you can’t like everyone.. Well put some ketchup on my hat as I am about to eat it. They were fantastic on the main stage. It was an emotional and virtuoso performance, fluid and powerful that had the crowd, and me, in the palm of their hand. There’s real heft behind their melody, a superb rhythm section powering it and the lead guitar is stunning with intricate, almost Rush-like runs in there. Honestly add to that some absolutely immense clean vocals and a fine front man and you get a simply mesmerising set. The crowd went a little nuts understandably. Yeah I love being wrong. CD bought and sorry it took me so long guys. But I got there.
Which led me nicely into heathen acoustic folk band Stonebearer, the equivalent of a Warhorns house band. Rightly so too. With a newly expanded line-up now including Arianna Mahsayeh (ex Hex Morbidity) on cello the quartet grace the attentive crowd with some wonderfully involving songs. After a solo intro of Tyr number ‘Grímur á Miðalnesi’ from singer/percussionist Drew, we are treated to ‘Das Hildebrandslied’ (Menhir) and a huge cover of Moonsorrow’s ‘Tulimyskyr’. The addition of the cello has really filled out the lower register of their sound with a rich presence as well as complimenting the violin and the strong guitar. It’s just superb music, vibrant and full of soul. Next year then? And if they ever play near you just go.
Firtan are splitters. Ok mostly a couple of us versus everyone else in the entire place I think. Their admittedly idiosyncratic take on progressive black metal has never moved me I’m afraid and unlike other bands this time was no different. They look fine on stage, kind of black metal tank crew but even their musical dexterity from quiet to howl and their movement on stage just brushes past me. However as I say I was in a tiny, tiny minority; the crowd greeted them like conquering heroes, fists were raised and bodies hurled. A friend later declared it the set of the weekend and I doubt he was alone. We’re all different.
In the Hive Stage Trivax were about to do for me what Firtan did for others. Incense burning brought in the sense of something on the threshold. From the opening notes of ‘The Serpent’s Gaze’ it furthermore was clear this was to be a take no prisoners set bristling with aggression and literally in your face challenge. Corpse paint and blood, leather and hoodie and visual fury Shayan led the pack into the violence. Tight as a mailed fist the band poured everything into this, no mercy. The sound is dense, loud and brutal which belies the quality and dexterous composition of songs like ‘Wormwood ‘ and ‘Ezraeel’. We got a live debut of ‘Twilight Of Death’ and the crowd was a flurry of headbanging, fists and horns. Oh I’m lost in this, utterly. By the time they finish ‘He Wandered Off To Nowhere’ with the bands exhortations ringing in my ears I feel like I’ve been given a vicious beating by guys who really know what to do. Hugely intense, violent, angry ripping set. Fucking brilliant.
Off to the merch table…limping….
A rest then? Not really. Vanaheim the pagan/folk metal band from the Netherlands are too damned excited to offer rest. Within moments it’s clear choosing them to play the main stage was A Good Idea. The band and the crowd are clearly here to party. They are high energy total crowd pleasers, running around like hooligans and the crowd responds to their catchy, melodic character. Great riffs and committed vocals, they kind of come across like Finntroll gone a bit more Viking. Whatever, it’s so entertaining. They even drag a lass on stage (a long time supporter of both them and Warhorns, Dawn of Ostara Metal blog) to get the crowd to sing happy birthday to her, which is just great).
Headliners on the Hive Stage couldn’t be more of a contrast. Booked on a vote of Warhorners, Abduction are…precision and utter howling madness altogether. Faceless, hoodies up and the insane, cowled singer bolt headlong into ‘Permissable Death’ and never come up for air. It’s staggering. It’s wrong. It’s stripping away layers of reality by daring the abyss to stare back. ‘Infinite Ancient Hexes’ drills into me the same way Portal do initially but instead it pushes through the other side where a compelling, teetering malignant melody creeps along the riff. The intensity is a vortex where the black and grey figures on stage drag us into their world. It is relentless but the way they combine this brutality with such utterly compelling riffs and dense musicality is stunning, the work of madness. ‘Prayer Of Electrocution’, the smothering ‘Convulsing At Baalbeck’, the harrowing of ‘Seven Apparitions Of Suffering’… Bones, heavy with centuries in the muck are dripped into acolytes hands. This is tempestuous music, a conjured storm that you get swept up in as ‘The Funeral Of Cosmic Mastery’ roils and rolls over us and leaves me stranded.
Flawless, raw, sophisticated; a terrifying contradiction. Abduction. Without a doubt my set of the weekend. Extraordinary.
Whew..time for a beer. Oh, we’re back to Carling, Guiness and Budweiser only…drunk dry twice in a weekend? Oh you Warhorners…
Thankfully with enough time to recover my sanity I collect myself for the big draw of the weekend. Kampfar. I mean what can you say about the extraordinary Norwegians? Twenty five years of determination and vision and leading. ‘Vettekult’ hurls them onstage and from moment one both band and crowd are ablaze. Dolk, probably one of the most distinctive frontmen in any metal genre seems to twist and launch himself at the crowd. The sound is excellent and the hard edged and the attitude sinuously aggressive. Somehow even at their most full on, the sense of folk lurking just beneath the surface persists. The musical phrasing beneath the riot? ‘Mylder’ thumps down, a hard hammering that breaks out into a wild ride. The crowd are going nuts by this point and I just get the impression the band are in their element and loving it. They attack and goad and encourage like a superbly maintained machine, just that this is raw spirit on display here nit mechanical actions. It peels from them in sweat and skin. ‘Troll Dod Og Trolldom’ from nearly twenty years back sits as fresh as ‘Eremitt’ and the glorious crying out of ‘Ophidian’ from this year. The energy and animation on stage is just stunning, pouring the music into open mouths. The jacket comes off and so do the shirts in the crowd as the pit erupts into turbulence. It’s not aloof either, Kampfar engage with the crowd, chat a little, push the involvement and even stalking the sides of the stage where wimps like me stand. ‘Swarm Norvegicus’ indeed swarms and we pass through (I think) ‘Ravenheart’ before leaving us seventy odd minutes later with ‘Tomekratt’ and a massive ‘Det Sorte’. It has been…well, wow. A total display of crowd control and glorious musical history and ability. The atmosphere was hair raising and the band magnetic. The serpent like figure of Dolk swirling everything around him. Total triumph. The best set from a main Warhorns headliner ever, for me. Brilliant, brilliant performance.
Ah Warhorns you did it again. Day 1 timings aside (beyond the organisers control) it went great. Yep my stomach needed better food than the burger van but hey, I could have missed a band (just.promised myself I wouldn’t..)
The best small festival in the UK? Probably. This year every single band and performer seemed to pour heart and soul into their appearance and every one should be proud. But you know what? I know I always say how friendly the attendees are, even to a numpty like me, but this year they excelled themselves in their enthusiasm for bands, willingness to be won over and just plain enjoying themselves. Oh and drinking dry the bar, twice. Kudos, Warhorners, you make me proud. And of course huge thanks and kudos to Glyn, Marc and the whole Warhorns crew and the Northern Darkness HMC for just doing the miracles you do every year
From the bottom of my heart thank you organisers, bands and audience.
Next stop, Drax Power Station 2020. So far Waylander, A Forest Of Stars, Enisum, Midnight Realm and Ruadh announced.
Pictures: Andy Pountney