I hadn’t spotted the change in door time and stage times for tonight’s gig which means I must apologise to York’s own Sellsword, who had just finished their set as I arrived and for whom, therefore, this is the only mention in this review. Paul, who was doing the lights tonight, did tell me that they were very good, though.
I might have missed the beginning of the gig but plenty of folk seemed to have been aware of the early start. As I made my way towards my usual spot I have to weave through a crowd that was already bigger than a lot of Fibbers gigs. The atmosphere was noisy, in a good way and I couldn’t help but feel slightly out of place in an audience mainly comprising of tattooed and pierced metal fans. Suffice to say there was hair in evidence. Lots and lots of hair.
It wasn’t long before Sheffield’s Northern Oak took to the stage. Purveyors of Progressive Folk Metal they opened with drum and bass before guitar came in and the headbanging started, with the slightly unusual sound of a flute weaving a lighter melody through the heaviness. I’m not a fan of “cookie monster” vocals, so was disappointed when the band’s frontman started barking, growing and occasionally screaming his lyrics. For me, the music was great, the vocals not so much so. Those in front of me seemed to be enjoying it, though, looking around the crowd I could see a fair number nodding along to the music while as many were joining in the headbanging. There was even evidence of air-guitar playing. The band’s second track started with a fast and furious drum line and, with keyboard player Digby, crimson hair resplendent, switching to violin, it was an even livelier track than the opener and was greeted with a huge cheer when it ended. “The time gods are against us slightly” intoned frontman Martin before explaining that some of the tracks they were playing tonight were from the band’s latest album Of Roots And Flesh and that the next one would be Taken. It had a lovely melodic opening, in part because Catie had switched from flute to some kind of accordion. It was a slower track, but that didn’t stop guitarist Chris from flinging his hair around while Digby successfully juggled violin and keyboard duties. I might not have been a fan of Martin’s vocals but there was no denying that he was putting a great deal of power into them, his mic-free arm flying and body bent almost double with effort. Thankfully for me, unlike some other bands I have seen employ a similar style of vocals, these weren’t too forward in the mix, meaning I could still appreciate the music. In These Hills followed, Martin encouraging the crowd to punch the air in time to Wib’s drums. Once again, Catie’s flute was coming through nicely and this track also featured a nice guitar line from Chris. With those time gods looking threateningly down on them Digby opened the final song of the set with gentle keyboards which were soon banished by powerful drums and the most guttural vocals so far. Overall this was a nicely varied – within their genre of choice – set, parts of which evoked images of warrior hymns, campfire melodies and marching anthems. For all I could make out of the lyrics, Martin might as well have been singing in old Norse, but I guess that is, at least partly, the point.
Finnish Pagan Metal band Moonsorrow had popped along to York in-between gigs in Bergen and Paris to play their first ever gig here as part of the annual Viking Festival. They had been mentioned to be by a fan last year and, despite knowing nothing about them (or their brand of music) I had decided to go along tonight to check them out. The fact that they have over sixty-five thousand Facebook likes is almost certainly indicative of their draw and as the roadies prepared the stage for their set Fibbers was fuller than I think I have ever seen it (in either location). As the stage was plunged into darkness, a huge cheer went up. When it was washed in a deep blue light a chant of “Moonsorrow” was taken up by the crowd and it dawned on me that there was no chance of any noise from the Bier Keller being heard in the venue tonight. Another cheer greeted the band as they came on stage, arms aloft and faces (and, in the case of keyboard player Marcus Eurén, torso) covered in war paint. The majority of the crowd in front of me seemed to be fist-pumping the air and chanting, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” as the band launched into the heavy and yet still melodic opening of 1065: Aika, one of the guitarists providing more harsh, guttural vocals that were all but drowned out by the music until bass-player Ville Sorvali joined in. Both music and musicians got more energetic as the track went on and its climax was greeted by a cheer and an array of Devil’s horns from the crowd. That track seemed to segue into Pimeä, but as I wasn’t familiar with the music I couldn’t be sure, throughout the set, where some tracks ended and others began. Again it was a case of barked vocals from the guitarist while Sorvali’s were more traditionally sung. And again they were, from where I stand, not so much drowned out by the music as enveloped by it – you could hear them, but only just. Not that it mattered in terms of picking out lyrics as the band sing in Finnish. By the time of (I think) Raunioilla, the audience seemed to be a sea of raised fists or flying hair. Yet another huge cheer greeted the end of that track.
“Thank you York,” said Sorvali. “We are Moonsorrow, here for our first night ever. Thank you for the warm welcome.” Warm? The welcome from this audience was practically tropical and, with Köyliönjärven Jäällä (Pakanavedet II) coming next, I couldn’t help but be swept up not just in the enthusiasm of the crowd but in the power of the music which, throughout the set, stayed melodic through its heaviness and loud but never overbearing. Next Sorvali treated us to a snippet of Finnish history which, he explained, may or may not be true, telling of how the first Bishop to visit Finland was slain by an axe. The next track once again was greeted by fists and chants from the audience. Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Sorvali told the crowd that even if they weren’t true Vikings, they should hold the with Viking lifestyle. “Vikings didn’t have cellphones,” he explained, asking that the crowd concentrate on the live performance on stage rather than watching it later at home. Then he gave a weather report. “Here it just rains water. At home it rains water all the f*****g time!” he explained before introducing a song about the home of the Frost Giants, Jotunhiem. (I knew reading Thor comics would come in handy one day…) Appropriately, it was the most brutal of the set’s tracks, although still with a nice keyboard sound and a section of almost choral vocals, with Marko Tarvonen’s cymbals evoked crashes of lightning or strikes in an epic battle. The whole audience (me excluded, obviously) seemed to be singing along. It was about this time that I gave up making notes – the setlist.fm entry for this gig, from which I have taken song titles, lists three more tracks but I have nothing until Solvani announced their last track, requesting the crowd scream before the band played it. Scream they did and the track was forthcoming, my attention only drawn away from it by one audience member who, after two successful attempts at crowd surfing onto the stage only to dive off again, was dropped as he made his way dangerously close to the sound desk. Concerned punters checking he was OK saw him get straight back to his feet, only to collapse again almost immediately. Thankfully, he seemed to be alright and was soon helped back to his feet and, within seconds, had been lifted onto the stage again, just in time for the band to finish that final track. As the band left the stage more chants rang through the crowd and what seemed to be a long wait for an encore ended in disappointment as Moonsorrow failed to return to the stage, the lights came back up and the crowd started making its way to the exit, at least of them muttering about how they couldn’t remember any band not coming out for more.
Despite missing the opening band I thoroughly enjoyed this gig. The music might not be of a style or genre that I would play at home, so it’s doubtful that I would buy any of the two band’s albums but I would quite happily see either band again (and Sorvali did say that Moonsorrow would be back).