Until last year I hadn’t realised that there was a traditional Viking metal gig at Fibbers to mark the end of York’s annual Viking festival. Moonsorrow, the headliners in 2015 might have been just outside my musical comfort zone – in that I doubt I would buy any of their output – but there live show was one of my highlights of the year and that meant that there was a good chance I was going to head to the equivalent gig this year even though, once again, I hadn’t heard of any of the bands on the bill.
I inadvertently turned up late, but only because the first band – Hull’s Aloeswood – was on stage much earlier than your average Fibbers gig. To be honest, I initially thought that it might have been a blessing in disguise. I walked into a wall of noise, beards and hair, some of the latter being thrown around in a way that I haven’t been able to do since my youth. The band were mid-song and, while the music was droning (which befits their genre as described on Facebook) it was more melodic than the vocals, which were of the “cookie monster crossed with a Doberman desperately in need of a Strepsil” style that does nothing for me. It was almost a relief when it was announced that what was to come next was the last song of the set, but I found that my initial impressions were, perhaps, a little unfair as this epic track unfolded. The vocals were still off-puttingly barked but the music was tight and varied. An energetic guitar opening, again with not much variation until the track really got going, a short “Hey! Hey! Hey!” shout along from the audience and a surprisingly atmospheric section played on the neck of Daniel Downing’s guitar which built in speed as Tom Warner’s drums built in volume added to a whole that was, musically, impressive. Aloeswood might appeal to fans of Opeth, the only band I have found who can properly combine the beautifully atmospheric with near-brutality.
As the stage was made ready for the next band I spotted that one of my usual standing spots had become vacant and moved forward to stand by the sound desk, feeling the chill of the infamous aircon unit on the back of my neck. I could help but thing, somewhat wryly, that the often overpowering sound of the unit wouldn’t matter one bit tonight.
Darkest Era took to the stage to a pounding drum beat and, as their opening track started I realised that they were more in line with my musical tastes. They had more traditional multi-vocal sound with audible lyrics and tunes in which you could distinguish separate guitar lines. There was synchronised headbanging, fist pumping and, in a theme that was to continue throughout the evening, more shouts of “Hey! Hey! Hey!”. The second track contained some tight changes of pace and a great melodic ending, the third was faster again, with more of a NWOBHM feel, but towards the heavier end of that genre. A slick twin guitar assault led to two more audience shout alongs of… well, guess what and a plea from frontman Krum for the audience to, “Scream for me!” and the end of the impressive track saw guitarists Ade Mulgrew and Sarah Wieghell high-fiving. In the same way that Viking metal songs tend to be based on Norse myths and legends, Darkest Era’s Celtic Metal sound mixes the musical style of the likes of Thin Lizzy, Saxon and Iron Maiden with lyrics based the dark side of Irish folklore, as evidenced by an earlier track’s lyric of “blood will run” and one of the two song titles I remember being introduced. During Songs Of Gods And Men you could almost hear the sound of pipes trying to break through in one brief section. The audience were lapping up the performance, with each shout along getting louder and more and more fists being pumped in the air. By the time the doom-laden opening of Awakens had made way for Krum’s screamed opening to the lyrics a proper metal-mosh-pit had kicked off and bodies were ricocheting off each other within it, much to the delight of the Krum himself, which might explain why he left the stage to come into the crowd during the next track. The earlier announcement that this was to be the last song was greeted with audible disappointment and, with Krum back on stage, its climax drew a veritable roar of appreciation from the crowd.
The Faroe Islands have a total population of less than fifty thousand. Týr, who hail from the islands, which sit North of Scotland, between Iceland and Norway and are part of the Kingdom of Norway, have nearly five time that number of Facebook likes and won band, album and album cover of the year at the inaugural Faroe Music Awards in 2014. They came onto stage to an indistinct voiceover and rumbling backing track, drummer Waltteri Väyrynen already behind his kit, one stick raised in salute, and were greeted by cheers and a mass of devil’s horns. Sinklars Visa saw Terji Skibenæs teasing the sound of pipes from his guitar, twin choral-chanted vocals and a mass clap along all of which evoked the feeling of a Viking hall which is, I guess, the whole point. The overall sound was loud but not brutal. Blood Of Heroes followed. Frontman Heri Joensen was stoic (good name for a Viking, that…) while Gunnar Thomsen on bass was more obviously enjoying himself, often mugging at the audience and the tattooed Skibenæs was lively around the stage. Väyrynen’s fast and furious drum opening to Hall Of Freedom was matched by the tongue-twisting vocals. The crowd in front of me was, by now, a sea of raised arms and flying hair and at least some were familiar with Tyr’s output. Hold The Heathen Hammer High saw to inflatable hammers being waved and thrown around the crowd. It has to be said, though, they were more “claw” than “Thor”. That track, with its impressive, fast and tight multi-vocals, was followed by By The Light Of The Northern Star, the fastest so far. Each song was being greeted by a roar from the crowd. The opening of The Lay Of Thrym slowed things down, its booming kick drum making the room vibrate while the band’s front line had a brief rest before the track exploded into life, initiating the liveliest mosh pit of the night. One of the inflatable hammers was thrown onto the stage and, barely missing a beat, Joensen stooped to pick it up and started hitting Thomsen with it.
Tróndur Í Gøtu, which saw the crowd pogoing almost as one, included more warrior chanting, the red stage lighting reflecting the tone of the track. An unexpected, metalled-up version of The Wild Rover (yes, that one…) was accompanied by an impressive mass sing-along which seemed to drag the whole crowd in and then the darker opening to Mare Of My Night befitted a song about nightmares before By The Sword In My Hand featured a rousing chorus. It was somewhat harder to sing along to Grindavísan, which was sung entirely in Faroese. A vocal backing track again, I think, in Faroese then led into Wings Of Time which was, in places, the slowest and most subtle track of the set, although it built all the way through until abruptly cutting back to the backing track at its climax. Turiò Torkilsdóttir saw a return to the multi-vocal chanting, this time made to echo around the venue, then came another mass sing-along to the second “hammer” song – Hail To The Hammer. Shadow Of The Swastika seemed to bring the set to a fast and furious end but, with Joensen telling us that it hadn’t, in fact, been the last song, Lady Of The Slain was, if anything, faster still. As that track finished plectrums were thrown into the crowd and the band left the stage with Thomsen, still grinning, taking time to shake hands with many at the front of the crowd.
It wasn’t long before they were back on, Joensen asking if we were still here and somebody else in the band (I forget who) quipping that they had homes to go to, before playing Ramund Hin Unge, with the crowd clapping along to the instrumental opening and singing along to the track proper, bringing the evening to a rousing end.
Týr might not have had the theatrical performance of Moonsorrow, but the gig was no less enjoyable and their music fit my tastes more than Moonsorrow’s did and, if there had been any available on the night, I could easily have added an album or two to my collection. Unfortunately, I think I heard that all merchandise had been snapped up early in the evening so this band are just going to have to take their place on my ever-growing “to buy” list.