First gig of the year and again we ask the question “When will the Warhorns crew get an even break?”

This time? Original venue flooded and the organisers were told only 18 days beforehand. They found a new venue and…two bands dropped out (one, Kull, publicly apologising as they had been hit by life and just weren’t ready to play). Then Summoned dropped out at very short notice apparently for similar reasons. Then, on the day, Old Corpse Road had to cancel – their bassist Tje Wanderer had lost a finger just before (Seriously! Wish you well man. Hope to see you back up soon) but the band were still playing and they had a bassist quickly learning the set aaaannnd then their guitarist got norovirus…jeez.

I mean….really? One all dayer gets all that?!

But still a healthy crowd turned up. Why? Still a fantastic bill and Warhorns have what most promoters would kill for – serious brand loyalty. Yep people turn up because they are involved, bloody honest people, and they work so sodding hard so we know it’ll be worth it.

On with the show!

Ok, heads up, with Old Corpse Road and Kull out most of the bill was new to me (seen The Infernal Sea twice but not for a few years and Darkher only once. I had heard nothing previously by most of the bill) so I was going in blind but actually really excited as there were three bands I’d wanted to see for ages and, well, you always expect a pleasant surprise or two. It’s why we come to these things yes? Celebrate the things we love, experience something new too.

Formicarius are one of two bands on this bill I’d been told to watch out for. With their stripped to the waist front man declaring their mission to bring keyboards back to black metal (I approve!) they surged through a nicely atmospheric set. A few teething technical problems sputtered up, a little amusing banter bridging them but nothing to detract from some excellent songs like ‘Stalker Beyond The Stars’ and ‘Beyond The Veil Of Flesh’. It’s kind of got that pounding Immortal style with a little Gehenna bringing a melodic, doomy touch. They move well too, even the keyboard player getting in on it, and with some nice leadwork it’s a fine start, a nice reception and I go in search of merch as I definitely need to hear them on record.

Up next were Cairiss. Hands up I hadn’t heard of this…counts quickly….six piece from Southampton (three male, three female) before the bill was announced so I hadn’t a clue what to expect. A delicate intro and then the riff hits the doomy, gothic sound from a great height. We get twin female vocalist; one beautifully handling the strong and powerful clean vocals, the other ripping out the harshness with a very charismatic stage presence. The music is a touch, a pinch, proggy here and there but effortlessly expands out into waves of ethereal post black metal sounds with a nice solid spine to it.

I suspect that in their collective music libraries you may find Amesoeurs and Alcest represented, yes, but they are walking their own path. Now hand on heart it’s not my cup of tea and they are a little line-across-the-stage apart from red haired Freya, but they play beautifully and the crowd really get into it which is nice reward for their hard work. I’ll have to give their EP ‘Fall’ a listen as judging by the chatter after they made a lot of fans.

Then came Vehement. Another black metal band I’d been told to watch for. ‘Tidal Verse’ hits us full in the face for a raging entrance. There is so much power here behind an initially unassuming visual presentation, hard and solid with some great bass lines twisting things. The vocalist has a superb varied and emotional attack and he begins to twist, turn and gesture as though caught in some black gale: A little of a Mr Kvarforth in his sinuous gestures, maybe, and a bit of Shining in the sound.

They tighten the intensity with ease, a great low down rumble lifting the guitars up. ‘Thematic’ is heavy, dark stuff, ‘Burden’s Root’ punishing and the band are tight and very impressive. Even the fine clean vocals just crank up the tension more. The sound surges towards Norse shores, touching on the more avant coastline maybe but always driving back into the power and intensity. For a first listen it’s compelling and I go in search of their latest album. Excellent, really excellent.

So, the Winterfest ship was now well and truly launched and into The Infernal Sea we go. There can’t be many who haven’t found themselves enveloped in this demonic green fog before but it’s been a couple of years since I braved it and our oceanic devils just seem to have the pull of the tides. From entrance to first riff you are in their plague mask world. The set seems to not be drawn much from either album but songs summoned since I last saw them with a sprinkle of favourites.

Wreathed in ghastly green fog, the singer stalks and strikes, commanding the brethren as the hugely dense riffing somehow trawls eerie melody from the waters. I find it difficult to pull away. ‘Tannis Root’ is bitter, the crowd seems as enthralled as I am but who can tell in this damned sea. Guitar and bass haul on invisible ropes, pulling hard as we delve deeper. It’s a weird unholy sound at once a seeming wall and yet as you reach out to find your way in it simply opens up for you. ‘Agents Of Satan’ lead us ‘Into The Unknown’ and cast us adrift as they depart. Wow. Initial sound issue aside this was just fantastic.

Follow that? Well best to have something completely different and the band I didn’t know who I was most excited about seeing; Dawn Ray’d. To say friends love this band is an understatement so I decided to come in blind so to speak. For similar people like me they are a young three piece of drums, guitar and vocals/fiddle which is…well, different. Why not? Their attack is utterly feral, commitment coming off them like a blast beat and the angular sideways on figure of Simon B. ripping into the words with grindcore ferocity. Visually they are, shockingly, excellent: The stripped down setup, the communication, the shapes hammered out all bleed integrity. Sound wise there’s real sharpness to the riffs; this is razors not blunt force which for me leaves the sound steering an odd route between raw black metal and grindcore. Until the fiddle comes in. Then it all kinda lurches sideways into NMA territory with no drift or feeding in, simply suddenly there it is, no vocals and the fiddle. Two songs in one. It kinda keeps pushing me away which is sad as I really like the parts, just not sure how they fit together. I think I’m going to have to investigate their studio output. But, again they go down deservedly superbly with the crowd. They leave us with a political message which, well, is what they are about so fine by me.

Also need to add I had a very nice conversation with Fabian D. the guitarist who was both patient, articulate and very pleasant when faced with an ignorant ancient geezer asking questions he’s probably sick of by now. Thank you, sir.

And a complete change. As the political fury abates, drinks are replenished, the world of drum and guitar duo Darkher descends upon us. The striking long red hair of singer/guitarist Jayn clad in black as ever just draws the eye and then the music of ‘Buried’ wraps around you and that…that is it. You are one of the lost. The riffs when they come are slow, ponderous, heavy as night itself. The vocals haunt, breathing in your ear one moment, crying out with chilling horror the next. It is a slow, dark waltz of doom, a funeral procession of the most sumptuous, ethereal and enthralling kind.

The musical communication between the duo is just superb, the rich sound of all the colours of the dark they weave together simply…ah, I write a command to myself; breathe! I’ve forgotten how to I think. The music is all I need. Visually arresting, musically stunning and making such strange, darkly glistening music so enrapturing is… Oh it was beautiful. Truly. Their reception is superb. My band of the day. Go and see them. Your soul will bless you.

So to the headliners. It turns out I know next to nothing of The Great Old Ones. Their sound seems to have changed beyond recognition from very early days I do know and I found it hard to find a way in so I thought it best to hand you over to an actual fan… (Gizmo)

Reviewing duties were passed to me for the headline act of the day, and I have to admit I really didn’t mind as I was looking forward to my first live encounter with The Great Old Ones who are currently touring on the back of the excellent ‘Cosmicism’. Unfortunately there was a lull in proceedings while setting up, which hit the momentum of the day and went beyond building excitement to causing frustration amongst the crowd as the sound engineer was running backwards and forwards between the mixing desk and the stage.

However, once the band hit the stage all was forgiven as a masterclass of atmospheric metal swirled around the venue, with the crowd fully immersed in the Lovecraftian Black Metal. The band were only visible as hooded silhouettes in front of strong blue and green backlights, keeping the focus solely on the music, which was suitably dense at the core, but augmented with epic and majestic sweeping melodies that seemed to gather in intensity as the set built to its climax.

This was a fitting culmination of the festival and saw the crowd leaving the venue content after the latest successful chapter in the Warhorns saga. (Andy P)

So at the end, after all the ridiculous issues that blighted the day from venue changes to horrible accidents, somehow Glyn, Marc, Oliver and the rest of the Warhorns crew made the inaugural Winterfest a genuine success. A great day, a crowd seemingly thoroughly satisfied by the chatter I overheard and some cracking music. Thanks for persevering and not throwing in the towel; from a punter point of view it was all worth it. (Gizmo)

Words: Gizmo and Andy Pountney

Pictures: Andy Pountney