REVIEW: Warhorns Festival 2019

Venue: The Trades, Rotherham
Dates: 30th – 31st August 2019

Once again, apologies for the terrible photographic quality. I’m hiring a tall person to take photos for me for the next festival I attend!

The Venue

Due to some of Eggborough power station literally exploding (being demolished), as well as some other things, this year Warhorns Festival was relocated to The Trades in Rotherham. It did mean no camping and staying in hotels instead, however due to it being Rotherham, there were some rather lovely hotels for a very reasonable price. I mean, when there’s a spa with Jacuzzi and swimming pool on site, plus a restaurant with delights such as “garlic-scented forest mushrooms” for around £60 a night (not including breakfast), you can’t really go wrong! The change in venue also meant that the usual Thursday party night was cancelled this year, but it didn’t make too much of a difference in the quality of the festival.

The Trades itself was situated very close to the rail and bus stations , so if you were local, you could easily save the money on accommodation and travel in every day. There was also a Wetherspoons about 5 minutes walk away, which of course is the staple diet of any metalhead at a gig or festival in a town or city! Inside there were two stages, the main stage (Northern Darkness Stage – website), and the Hive Bar stage which was a smaller room with a stage that was around the same height as the main floor. This did mean for the first time in my memory there were two full days of two stages, with the second stage also having fully amped acts rather than just the more acoustic acts.

Security on the door at The Trades were incredible. They allowed various fruits and vegetables inside the venue (all hail the pineapples!) as long as they stayed in one piece inside the venue, and were generally good to chat to and have a laugh with. A special mention also goes to one of the staff at The Rhinoceros Wetherspoons, who was a lovely guy and provided a few of us with money off vouchers for food and drink, and also came along to the festival when he was off shift.

There were a selection of stalls in the same room as the main stage, including the usual Warhorns merch stall where you could buy both Warhorns merch and band merch from those playing on the day. There were also patches and music on sale from Mercian Storm (Facebook, website). My personal two favourite stalls from the weekend were the mead stall run by my friends Alex and Lisa (the cherry mead as usual went down an absolute treat!), and an art stall by the so very talented Abbie ‘Stabby’ Rial (Facebook, website). Definitely go and check out her Facebook page and Headbangers and Mash collection!

Day One (Friday)

As I try and be at all times in my reviews, for me personally there were not a lot of bands at all that I was really interested and excited to see on the Friday. This is by no means a jibe at the organisers, as I know so many other people were excited by the lineup playing that day.

Wyrdstaef, Northern Darkness stage

I was definitely interested in seeing the first band of the festival on the Northern Darkness stage, as I have managed to miss every single performance they had done so far, including their very first performance at Warhorns Festival last year. Wyrdstaef (Facebook) fuse traditional tribal elements a la Heilung with crushing heavy metal and do it in a way that completely captivates the audience. The lighting for this particular performance really added to the atmosphere and it gave an element of foreboding, and it was like you were bring transported back to those dark palaeolithic times.

Sininen, The Hive Bar stage

In a definite change of pace, the next act on my list was Sininen (Facebook), an acoustic folk duo from Devon who graced the Hive Bar stage. It was a lovely, relaxing performance, and a few of us even ended up sat on the floor swaying to their last few songs. You could tell the duo were both a little nervous, but the crowd loved them and the cheers got louder after every song! Who says metalheads can’t enjoy a bit of acoustic and calm every now and again?

Dark Forest, Northern Darkness stage

Dark Forest (music and merch, Spotify, Facebook) were next for me, and after a very short set last year due to technical issues, they were invited back to play the Northern Darkness stage for a full set this time around. Pretty much the only power metal band of the festival this year, I was very excited for my fix. The vocalist’s voice is powerful, and he can hit both those high and low notes, and the instrumental was spot on as usual. Definitely a great band to get some energy released to!

Demonic Resurrection, Northern Darkness stage

The final band of the night for me was Demonic Resurrection (music and merch, Spotify, Facebook). I was expecting a lot of black and death metal sounds from them as they advertise themselves as blackened death and I’m not normally a fan of that genre, but there was actually so much more to the music. There were some power metal style elements, and lots of different bits from different genres. It definitely worked and I thoroughly enjoyed myself! These guys had come all the way from India to play a lot of UK dates, and Warhorns Festival (I hope) was a highlight for them. My only regret was not purchasing a t-shirt!

There were, of course, more bands playing that evening. However, for me, I was just too tired. There had been some issues before the festival opened which pushed back set times, and I was lame and unable to hack it past midnight. I hope the rest of the evening was just as much fun as the day had been for everyone, there were definitely a few sore heads wandering around on Saturday!

Day Two (Saturday)

The Saturday of Warhorns Festival was not only a much better day band-wise for me, but it was also my birthday! (This became very relevant later in the day!)

The doors opened at around midday for the Saturday bands, and there was also some sad news. Overnight, Waylander had cancelled their performance due to illness, and so I was a little disappointed that I would not get my folk metal birthday jigging session! This meant there were a few set time changes, and a later start for the Hive Bar stage. This change, however, was a blessing in disguise as I will mention later!

Cistvaen, Northern Darkness stage

First on my list, and the first band of the day, were Cistvaen (Facebook), an atmospheric black metal band from Devon, featuring my friends DoomFace on guitars. I can be hit and miss with atmospheric black metal, as I am not a fan of black metal in general, however I thoroughly enjoyed the set. There were definitely elements of Insomnium and Countless Skies in their instrumentals, and the entire band were clearly focused on the performance. We did a little bit of squatting for a song or two, and even the bassist joined in for a while. As the music ended, we had a lovely chant of “Morrisons Cider” for DoomFace, as this became a meme of sorts at Bloodstock Festival.

Pallas Athena, The Hive Bar stage

Yet another friend of mine, Vickie Harley, was front woman for the next must-see band, Pallas Athena (music and merch, Spotify, Facebook). I knew her from her vocals in A Clockwork Opera, who disbanded a while ago. Pallas Athena was something else. Billing themselves as symphonic power metal, it was so much more. The instrumentals were full and it didn’t sound like there was anything missing. You could tell that bands such as Nightwish were a huge influence, and the set had a large theatrical element as well as the atmospheric and incredible instrumentals. As usual, Vickie used her vocal talents perfectly, from incredibly high soprano, to more “normal” vocal techniques.

YYLVA, The Hive Bar stage

One of the house acts for Warhorns, YYLVA (music and merch, Spotify, Facebook) returned yet again with nothing but her voice and her harp. A far cry from her atmospheric black metal style album The Wood Beyond the World, in her live performances she brings it right back to basics with a superb acoustic set, and absolutely incredibly clear vocals. There is always something hauntingly beautiful about a YYLVA set, and the dim green lighting certainly added to that feeling.

Another band I have seen countless times before (geddit!) is Countless Skies (music and merch, Spotify, Facebook), and as usual they definitely didn’t disappoint. Their melodic death metal is something I can really get my teeth into. Another great band that reminds me of Insomnium, I always enjoy Countless Skies’ sets and their energy on stage. They certainly didn’t disappoint the crowd!

Stonebearer, The Hive Bar stage

The other Warhorns house band, Stonebearer (Facebook), brought their acoustic Moonsorrow act to the Hive Bar stage. Stonebearer brought a new member with them to Warhorns, the cellist Arianna, formerly of Hex Morbidity. I entered the room a little late, but as I came in, half of the crowd were sat on the floor, chilling out and appreciating the music. It was another lovely, calming set that brought everyone in the room together, once again proving that metalheads can occasionally be calm and don’t need to be constantly pushing each other about in a pit. It also allowed those who were still nursing hangovers to have a much required rest.

Due to Waylander’s last minute cancellation I mentioned earlier, a little band called Vanaheim (music and merch, Spotify, Facebook) got pushed up to sub-headliner under Kampfar on the Northern Darkness stage. I have known the Vanaheim guys for little over a year now, and when they were announced for Warhorns this year I was extremely excited to meet them in person for the first time, and see them perform live for the first time because their EP The House Spirit is incredible!
The Northern Darkness stage definitely suited Vanaheim more than the Hive Bar stage would have done in my opinion, and the room was packed out. They indulged our obsession of pineapples and had them on stage with them, and they had such great energy on stage. But the absolute highlight (and most embarrassing moment of the weekend) was just before they played The Dwarven Chant. They knew it was my birthday, but what I was not expecting was to be called up on stage, and have the entire venue sing Happy Birthday to me with a very special Vanaheim instrumental accompaniment! At the time it was horrendously embarrassing to be up on stage in front of all those people, but also an incredibly amazing moment that I will not forget for a long time. It will be very difficult to top this on my birthday next year!

Kampfar, Northern Darkness stage

After that absolutely incredible high (which took me quite a while to recover from!), the final band of the night headlining the Northern Darkness stage was Kampfar (music and merch, Spotify, Facebook), with a 2019 UK exclusive show. Inspired by Norwegian folklore, Kampfar have a distinctive black metal style. Again, I am not normally such a black metal fan, but I did enjoy them. There were so many pineapples in that crowd!

Overall Impressions

It was all change again for Warhorns this year with yet another change in venue required after the brief one-time stint at Eggborough Power Station, and yet again the Warhorns team managed to pull it off. With any festival you are bound to get some issues that are beyond your control, and sadly this led me to missing one or two bands on the Friday night due to the very late running. There were many, many people who could hack it, but I was not one of them!
My only slight gripe from the weekend was again, due to personal taste. There was a lot of black metal bands there this year, and black metal generally is not a genre I click with very well. If there’s black metal, there needs to be some atmosphere or folky elements to it, so I love bands such as Moonsorrow who combine those elements. Most attendees of Warhorns, however, are a fan of such metal, and I could tell from their reactions and responses to the lineup and how much they seemed to be enjoying themselves that it was good black metal that could be appreciated. While not a fan myself, I could appreciate how much work goes into producing the music, and how hard they work on their performance and stage presence.

Warhorns is most definitely a family-friendly festival, and you are bound to make many friends every year due to the size of the festival and the niche genres Warhorns provides. I know people who have arrived on their own and left with a multitude of new friends they regularly keep in contact with, which is not an atmosphere you tend to find a lot at other UK festivals of larger sizes, particularly when the genres are more diverse.

Next year, Warhorns Festival will take place at Drax Power Station, so camping next to a giant set of cooling towers will be back on the menu. From what I have seen, the layout is pretty similar to Eggborough last year, and I hope the catering and facilities are just as good. There will once again be a party night on the Thursday, and some bands for the weekend have already been announced!

Expect the likes of Waylander (music and merch, Spotify, Facebook), A Forest of Stars (music and merch, Spotify, Facebook), Enisum (music and merch, Spotify, Facebook), Midnight Realm (music and merch, Spotify, Facebook), Ruadh (music and merch, Spotify, Facebook), Metal Castle (music and merch, Spotify, Facebook), and many more yet to be announced!

Useful Links:

Warhorns 2020 tickets and Warhorns Winterfest tickets: http://www.warhornsfestival.co.uk/?p=tickets
Warhorns FB page: https://www.facebook.com/warhornsfestival/
Warhorns website: http://www.warhornsfestival.co.uk

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